Mount Kinabalu, Borneo


Are you searching for a true sense of achievement?  Or the ultimate test of mental and physical strength?  With views of unbelievable granite rock formations and a panorama nearly 4100m down to the ocean? Then Mount Kinabalu is the summit climb for you.

The sun rises, the clouds part and you are amazed to see where you really are.  The sweat, the pain, the 2 am start with soaking wet clothes, are all quickly forgotten.  “Did I really walk up here?” you ask yourself. The wind is still howling, your fingers are wet and freezing, but in this moment you don’t care.  The granite peaks around you are unusual, astonishing shapes, that make you wonder the creation of what you are seeing.

It’s a formidable, unrelenting, sparse place, not even mammals can live on this granite plateau.  You walk through the night to reach the summit in pitch black, wind and rain using ropes to heave your body up the steepest parts of the granite face.    “Aki Nabalu” means the revered place of the dead, which perfectly describes the feeling in this place.  There does seem to be a mystical, eerie sensation that overpowers you.

Climbing one of South-East Asia’s highest summits is no easy task and you definitely need some level of fitness.  In just over 24hrs you will climb up over 2500 meters and also have to get back down.  You will hike in two separate landscapes, mostly jungle and steps at the base, changing to open granite faces at the top.  On-route there are huts for resting, where there are small mountain squirrels which are definitely not shy.  I watched as a man took a tiny piece from his apple getting the squirrels to come right to his hand and feed.  Although one squirrel was unbelievably amusing and defiant, whilst being shown the piece in the man’s hand, it went around his back and slyly stole the whole apple.

My opinion is descending was much more challenging than ascending, with thousands of steps to tackle.  My legs gave up 4 km from the bottom, through grimaced teeth, and holding onto whatever I could find, I hobbled to the end.  I’m sure that I scared some of the climbers still on their assent. “Are you ok?” and “How far is it to the top?” were some of the repeated questions I was asked.   The climb is only around 9km in length, but I guarantee it will feel like 50km by the time you are finished.

Booking this trip is easy, even on arrival in Borneo, in the monsoon season.  I think the cheapest place to book is going directly with the one of the few lodges on the mountain.  Laban Rata hotel is reasonable and they have an office in the Wisma Merdeka (shopping mall) in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.  They arrange all your meals, accommodation and guide, you just have to get to the Kinabalu National Park entrance before 9.30am.  It is a 2 hour drive from Kota Kinabalu and costs around $5 on local transport.   The climb is not cheap, depending on who you book with and time of year, estimate just over $200 for the trip.

This may end up being one of the hardest things you do in Borneo but on reflection it is going to be one of the most memorable and satisfying things that you do.

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